Federal Government considering ‘Vessel Grandfathering’ report

The Federal Government has released the final report from an Independent Review Panel into the AMSA domestic maritime safety National Law (Phase 1).

The (Phase 1) Interim Report of this Independent Review Panel was released in August 2022 and recommended removal of the ‘grandfathering provisions’ on vessels and qualifications that had been introduced by Anthony Albanese in his former role as Minister for Transport in 2013, when maritime safety management responsibility was shifted to AMSA under agreement between the Federal government and all State governments.

This interim recommendation has been amended in the Final Report, as below:

Finding 3: The current grandfathering arrangements and how the transitional standards framework is perceived to operate, act as a disincentive to safety improvements.

Recommendation 2: Safety improvements should be introduced to the current grandfathering arrangements in accordance with a phased risk-based program.

  1. Domestic Commercial Vessels (DCV) that would be required to be surveyed under the risk-based regulatory regime proposed under Recommendation 1, and that are subject to grandfathered survey requirements, should undergo survey inspection to assess gaps and requirements to minimum design and construction standards and comply with baseline requirements for stability, fire safety and electrical safety.
  2. Owners should be required to rectify inspection findings within two years of inspection, except where the vessel poses a major and imminent safety risk.
  3. ‘Survey type’ vessels that operate to grandfathered design and construction standards, and that are within survey, should continue to meet the standard that applied to the vessel as at 30 June 2013, subject to also complying with baseline requirements for stability, fire safety and electrical safety.
  4. Grandfathered crewing arrangements should be allowed to continue, subject to the vessel not changing its area of operation, nature of operation or being modified. AMSA should develop an evidence base on the incidence of serious injuries and fatalities associated with these arrangements, and it should draw any new evidence to the attention of the Australian Government.
  5. Grandfathered Certificates of Competency should be improved by:
  • Requiring the registration of Perpetual Certificates with AMSA. Upon registration, these certifications should be recognized by AMSA and reissued subject to Certificate holders being assessed against contemporary health and fitness standards; and,
  • Providing logbook evidence of a minimum number of hours applied each year. The minimum number of hours should be determined by AMSA in consultation with industry.

6. The Australian Government should consider establishing a Safety Improvements Package with a suite of time limited incentives, to assist with inspections and attaining appropriate standards, from a sustainable funding source.

7. The Australian Government could consider funding arrangements from a sustainable funding source to assist state and territory governments to manage higher numbers of abandoned, or derelict, vessels due to changes in grandfathering, if this issue arises.

8. These inspections should occur over a two-to-five-year period, with higher risk vessels/operations given greater priority for early inspection

The Independent Panel (Phase 1) Final Report can be found here.


Prime Minister Albanese and State Transport Ministers committed to introducing the ‘grandfathering provisions’ to recognise that many in the Australian commercial vessel fleet (including fishing vessels) were operating quite safely under their existing vessel standards, applying existing management systems, and within their existing area of operation, and thus should not be forced into major cost imposts to meet the various new vessel standards across jurisdictions for no measurable change in safety benefit.

At the time, June 2013, governments deemed these arrangements to continue unless incident evidence and data dictated the need to adopt an alternative approach.

Industry responded strongly to the Independent Review Panel’s ‘interim report’ recommendations to remove the grandfathering provisions during consultations with the Panel in late 2022/early 2023, outlining why removing grandfathering provisions will be a huge impact on the fishing industry.

Industry needed the Panel to understand clearly that the inference in the Independent Panel’s initial (Phase 1) draft report, that ‘grandfathered vessels’ pose an added safety risk when working under their existing survey standards and within existing operational areas, lacked any evidence or data to validate these claims – the very point behind the Governments’ introducing grandfathering in 2013.

Industry also highlighted that changes to the ‘grandfathering’ provisions will also have an impact on master and engineer qualification recognition, and as with other agricultural sectors, the fishing industry is already facing significant workforce attraction and retention pressures.

Industry has significant concerns that the removal of existing qualification recognition (without adequate evidence) and application of a new set of standards has the potential to cripple the industry overnight.

In early September 2023, the Federal Government announced there would be no further consultation by the Independent Panel, and that the Panel had submitted its final (Phase 1) Report. A spokesperson at the time advised the Minister was now considering the report and what will happen next.

The Minister has now released the final report publicly.

  • There is no indication that further submissions will be encouraged.
  • There is no indication if, or when, government will make a final response or decision.
  • The Minister may release the Government’s final response/decision together with proposed legislative changes which then includes a mandatory public consultation process.

WAFIC and other peak industry groups around the country are meeting to determine the next steps in relation to discussions with Government on the recommendations contained in this report.


Note: You can send your views to Minister Catherine King, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport & Regional Development of Australia Email: [email protected]